Yesterday, I went through my second-graders folder as I do daily to review his homework, and sign my initials on his daily agenda. In his folder, I’m shocked to find a copy of a form with a personal note written asking me to sign and return the form. My eyes zoom in on the checked box that says “detention” followed by a filled in “1 day” duration. I speed-read through the remainder of the document. An incident happened at school on the playground and it was “reported” and my son also corroborated the reported and “admitted” to striking another student in the stomach and when asked why he said because he was frustrated. I immediately call my son downstairs asking him to explain to me what happened.
Me: Did you hit another student in the stomach at school?
Son: (hesitates) no…
Me: Tell me the truth.
Son: (more definitive) No.
Me: Well read this note and explain to me what is being talked about… (My son goes on to read the note aloud with my support. It came to my realization that I read the word “struck” to mean hit or punched directly, hence the confusion. My son is very literal, so when I asked “did you hit anyone” his answer was “no.”).
He then goes on the recall the incident and, long story short, admitted to throwing a ball in frustration after being taunted for losing the game. We discussed why that is problematic and inappropriate behavior. We discussed what it means to be a poor sport and how to improve his sportsmanship. He was very remorseful and I knew he understood what he did was wrong. However, when I pointed out to him that his consequence was 1 day of detention he was afraid. “What’s detention” he asked. I explained using an example from a highly popular elementary book series Captain Underpants–detention is where students are required to go either during or after school as a punishment (sorta like timeout).
He had lots of questions loaded with curiosity–“where is it? how long do I have to stay? Is it all day? Is it in the principal’s office?” His questions turned into worry, fear, and anxiety “I don’t want to go to the principals office! I don’t want to go to detention!” Tears well up in his eyes and I have to help calm my baby down using two of my mama super powers–prayer and advocacy.
I invite him to pray to God to help him with his fear of detention–his prayer sounded like a plea “Dear God, please I don’t want to go to detention. I’m sorry for being frustrated. I promise to be better and make better choices. Amen.” A little bit after the prayer, he confesses “Mom, I’m still a little worried about school tomorrow.”
I tell him to follow me into my home office. I get on the computer and I begin to email his teacher. He’s curious, “What are you gonna say to her?” I talk him through my email (below). During the email writing, I ask my son what did he think is a better solution than detention. He prefers just him and his buddy talk it out and he apologize, so I follow his request in the email.
I saw the copy of a note about an incident on the playground from last week…
I spoke with SON about what happened and he is very emotional and fearful of the idea of “detention.” He’s literally crying and shaken up. I need your help in understanding the severity of the consequence of 1 day of detention. What does that entail? Would he spending the entire day in detention–that would take away from his learning time? I worry that the consequence doesn’t match the incident appropriately and would like to know why the. other options (a warning and parent contact) weren’t applied (especially if this is his first incident)?
I would love to talk to you about this and offer an alternative school discipline practice that is more restorative as opposed to punitive. Restorative justice/peace circles where the two children can come together with a teacher mediator to discuss what’s causing conflicts in their relationship. They can apologize, be accountable, and make commitments to better behavior.
Please let me know how we can resolve this in a less punitive way so my son is not so distraught and sad.
We finish the email, I return the note to his folder–unsigned with a note that said I do not agree with detention and to check her email–and we go to bed. As he goes to sleep he says he feels “more better.”
The next day I received an email (below) soon after school started.
Thank you for letting me know about the history…It was surprising to me when he told me what he did out of frustration because it’s so unlike him. I have no intention of having him serve detention, I am forwarding your email to Principal… I really appreciate your letting me know and I will follow up with you soon. Thank you!
When I picked him up from school–“I asked did you have detention?” He was cool, calm, and collected and said “no, the teacher spoke to me and said she didn’t know all the information and I will have no detention.” We high-five in celebration and I ask him, “who made that happen?” to which he replied “God and you.” I beamed with joy and said “Yup, Mama and God will always have your back boo!”
This incident reveals so many layers of why Parenting for Liberation is vitally important. With so much data about school-to-prison pipeline, I could only imagine what it would mean for a second-grade black boy to be held in detention. Especially seeing the way my son had so much fear and worry, what the impact would have been on him long term. We can’t jump to harsh discipline without first talking to the children and getting a sense of what is going on for them in the first place. While I don’t think the solution is to not have consequences for his actions–detention felt a bit too harsh, especially when the teacher and school made that choice without knowing the full context of the incident. Have your children ever received harsh discipline? How did you handle it?